Background Checks

Just the other day, I heard a prominent lawmaker try to defend a department head’s unacceptable behavior by saying, “We had so-and-so completely vetted before making a hiring decision.”  On the surface, it may sound as if everything that could have been done was done.  The problem, at least in part, is the conventional meaning of the word “vetting.”  For most people it means doing a background check.  What it does not mean is checking references!

The vetting process ordinarily is making sure the person is who he or she claims to be, but not determining if the person can do what he or she claims to be able to do.  That’s why checking references is so important in the hiring process.  It’s one thing, for example, to determine that a candidate for employment worked where he/she said he/she worked.  It’s an entirely different matter determining if he or she performed well on the job.  A simple background check just won’t help the prospective employer find that out.

Doing a simple background check is only half the job.  It will establish whether the candidate has the educational qualifications or not.  It will disclose whether the candidate is a convicted felon or child molester.  It will confirm that the candidate worked where he/she said he/she worked.  What it will not do is give the prospective employer a clue about the candidate’s ability to work with others or what the candidate’s management style was like or what the candidate needs to do to improve his/her overall job performance or why the candidate is looking for another job!  While the foregoing questions just skim the surface of a truly thorough reference check, they point up what the typical “vetting” process will not do.

Far too many employers fail to understand that significantly more information about a prospective employee is available through careful reference checking.  Or, even if they do realize it, many feel that they’re doing enough by just confirming the basics, when, in fact, they’re doing only half the job.  Confirming that the candidate is who he or she claims to be is important, but knowing, for example, how well the candidate is going to fit in with others already in the workplace is equally, if not more, important in the hiring process.  And the only way to make that determination is through careful reference checking.  So, the next time you hear someone say that a new employee was completely vetted, it might be wise to ask the employer exactly what being “completely vetted” means.